Monday, February 28, 2011

Another week, another week, another week :)

We are at a point where sometimes it feels like week after week of the same. It can be difficult to continue to focus on God and maintain good attitudes when we are still so limited in our ability to minister. Limited by language, by cultural understanding, by all the limitations we had before we got here, and I was already sufficiently limited. We get some opportunities to minister, some opportunities to love but the grammar for deep conversations about the faith still eludes me. It gives us much time to think, pray, grow as a family but can also be lonely. If we let it, it would lead to discouragement, thoughts of going home, justification of what we learned here and how that can apply anywhere in the world (true). Maybe God brought us here to teach us to plant churches in the US, maybe He did but He certainly isn’t moving us there now.

We go out to restaurants, the kids go to school, we are helping begin a lunch program at church, I go to the prison for boys once a week. Truthfully we get more opportunities than we realize to be missionaries but when you have a language barrier it seems like you aren’t doing anything. You are forced to rely on others, really you are relying on God. It is healthy, we are being stripped from the process.

At the same time God is speaking to us about what it means to be a missionary (understand, there isn’t a universally right answer to this question). For us, we desire to see lost come to Christ. This is missions, the geography doesn’t matter. We are trying to increase our exposure to people who don’t know Jesus. We are trying to be braver, to step out and try things.

One thing we tried and may try again was an English practice group. It didn’t really take off and became clear to me it wouldn’t. It gave me some more insight into the culture I am trying to reach. They are group oriented, they make decisions to do or not do things with friends. They really don’t do much alone. We have seen this ordering pizza too. In the states if a group of friends is going to order pizza one or two of us take charge, maybe ask an opinion or two and then order a stack of pizzas. Pepperoni, sausage, supreme, cheese for the kids. Here you talk to everyone find out what they like, everyone is more concerned about what everyone else likes and so on. It takes time and I theorize that in the end you may not get the pizza any one person wanted but some sort of compromise. Perhaps it is why they have so many different toppings on one pizza.

What does this mean. It means we have to seek to become part of the groups of people around us that already exist. There is a sports bar/pizza shop down the street. We need to spend more time there. His son goes to school with our kids. Other families go there. It means I need to find a way to go fishing. To engage people in a hobby I enjoy. It means Melissa should think about running, marathons, triathlons. It means the kids are the best missionaries in the family.

This week at the prison one boy really seemed touched. He said he wanted relationship with God but got a bit nervous when we suggested he talk to God. I believe many of them are coming to Christ through what God is doing there it just may not look like what we are used too. Also delivering food after lunch at the church to one of the favelas was a reminder of the need to break inside there and present the gospel. It is a factory of hurt, pain, broken relationship.

Pray for us, we are at a point where we need to put another effort into learning more language. Tim said to me when I first got here study a little practice a lot. In effect that is what I have done but less study then perhaps I should have. We go through periods of lessons, reading books, Rosetta Stone then I go out and try it. I learn for a while just practicing then hit a wall and need a bit more study to begin learning again. This is how I learned wood working, cooking, a bit about mechanics. I don’t know the terms for almost anything in wood working but can do much. I would like to do a crash course in a language school but seem to get my time eaten up by normal life. When I looked into it before a lot of visa process came up. People assume because I am American I have lots of money and the language schools try and gouge me.

Also pray for a car. We don’t know if we will stay in Foz long term but God brought us to Brazil to learn about missions, learn Portuguese, touch peoples lives, disciple people to reach the poor. This will take at least a couple more years. Even if God is one day going to call us to a less reached nation. I long to go fishing, we want to go to the lake as a family. We want to be able to deliver food, go buy food easily. This is all very difficult without a vehicle. We are thankful in all things, thankful God knows our needs.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


We are orphans in this nation. We are not Brazilian, not even South American. Foreigners in the camp and have been treated that way, by good hosts. Welcomed, loved by most, enjoyed but not adopted. Not taken in. Our neighbor’s were largely uninterested in knowing us, many of them had lived on this street 30 years and we were American’s renting this house likely to leave. It all changed last week.

The kids started school and we met a few people. The school supervisor’s mom lives 2 houses down. Most of the kid’s on our street go there. Word got around that the American kids were in the school. All of a sudden we are no longer just visitors, not just people here for a moment and doors opened. We have begun to be adopted by our community. Neighbors introducing themselves to us. Asking if we need anything. People who didn’t talk to us before now want to include us in their lives. I am so thankful we decided to place the kids in school. We are learning that the costs of embracing the culture beyond the surface pay big dividends.

We are trying to take advantage of this. I am starting an English practice group, to discus philosophy, culture, music. I both can build relationship with many of the young people, they all study English, but also am learning about Brazil. Their culture, how they think, what’s important to them. When our neighbor’s ask about us and why we are here I always mention it. They always have a son, a daughter, a nephew that needs practice. The family that owns a local coffee shop has interest, it is a great open door.

I also tell them about going to Ciaade, the prison. That continues to go well. I felt this last Friday was a real breakthrough personally. Not necessarily in the boys but in my own heart. I feel more confident then ever God is faithful and will continue to seek them long after I loose hope. I do think it is beginning to click for some of them but it is a long process. These are boys who murder without regret.

Also at church we have begun making lunch on Saturdays for street people. We made about 60 lunches, 5-10 came and got one. We distributed the rest around the community. There are so many people in need here. It is everywhere. One of these days I will get brave and take pictures in the favela. Maybe from a car when I can speed away.

Telling our neighbors about these things helps us build relationship. It is also an indicator that despite how I sometimes feel my Portuguese is improving. Having a purpose here let’s us build relationship with them without them wondering if we want something from them or are criminals.

I am excited to see how we can continue to learn and grow. If God ever does lead us further and deeper into missions as we suspect He is what we are learning now is priceless. If we can’t connect with a culture similar to our own, we can’t hope to connect with the tribal people or other sub groups around us. Much less a very different African, Asian, or who know what other country.

Monday, February 14, 2011

First week of School

This week seems to have gone bye fast and yet sometimes extremely slow for me (Melissa). Ben and I have been praying about the children's schooling for quite some time. God has been faithful in answering these prayers since Moriah first started at Albany Christian School, and then the other two. I have enjoyed these last seven months with the kids so much. Teaching kids from home is not for the faint at heart. I have gained a new respect for mothers and fathers homeschooling their kids. Ben and I felt that we needed our kids to really be a part of Brazil. Attending school here was a big step toward this. The schools in Brazil are a little different than the states. Their school year is from February to December. Summer vacation is when the us is in the middle of winter, in other words opposite to the states. They have a morning class from 7:30 am to 11:30 am and then another group of kids from 1:30 to 5:30 pm. Our kids go at 1:30. Most people that work in Brazil have a 2 hour lunch break in the middle of the day because this is most peoples biggest meal. So of course you need time for a nap.  Daniel and Juliah were very excited at the thought of going to school. Moriah was a very nervous mostly not knowing the language, but also having attended the same school her whole life. I was both excited and a little nervous my self. Were the kids going to be nice, are they safe( even though I can see them at recces) all I could picture was the movie Karate kid. Kids being mean and teachers not caring. God is so good though, none of it was true. They did very well and the kids in the school were very helpful to Moriah and Daniel and Juliah.  Their first day, I was home alone with the baby and prayed like never before. I felt like I wanted to be  like a mother hen, you could say, and protect my kids, from what, I didn’t

know . Did I really trust God, I kept praying. Realizing I don’t do this enough for my kids. Today was their 3rd day Let’s just say I did better I still prayed but I know this is what God has for this moment. We are still planning on teaching them some  subjects in English at home, so they stay with their class. However, for now learning the Language is most important. I’m going to let Moriah tell  you her view of School in Brazil.


Uhhhhh…. I think that school here is fun. When we first went there I was so scared I don’t think I even said bye. I got in line and went inside my classroom. I had no idea what to do so I sat at a random desk. (here they don`t have names on the desks.) Then the teacher came in and some boy yelled there`s someone new! The teacher said hi and asked “You speak English right?” (in Portuguese) I said yes. She smiled and said do you have school supplies? and I said no. so she went to the closet and pulled out a notebook for me to use and told me a better place to sit. The teacher walked over to the board and started writing. A girl in front of me named Victoria opened my book and pointed to the top of the page. I had no idea what she meant but I started writing what the teacher was writing which apparently was what I had to do. I had no idea what I was writing. (and still don`t) Later that day Victoria asked me if I wanted to play with her at recess and I said yes so at recess I played with her, Aunie Victoria, and another girl who I keep forgetting her name. But from now on Victoria helps me with school work and with figuring out what to do.

                                 Thank You everyone who prayed for me…..

Monday, February 7, 2011

Context not culture

Preparing to go into missions you talk about cross cultural adaptation. Have traveled on missions trips in the past, you have an idea of cross cultural experience. Being someone open to relationships with people from other cultures you learn a little more. The truth is you simply cannot become one with another culture. Over time you can get close, our friends Tim and Talissa show this. They aren’t Brazilian, but they aren’t truly American any longer. The goal of a missionary is to create a third, hopefully more biblical culture. To try and take of your cultural assumptions and look more closely at the nature of the Gospel, the simplicity of God’s word. I think part of what makes this hard is what we think of as culture. Music, clothes, food, language. Going deeper we think about marriage and family practices, maybe legal issues, religion. Reading radical, which I have referred to before, he uses a word I like more than culture, context.

Context points us not just to the way people talk or dress. The way people date, get to know each other, what their wedding ceremony looks like. Context puts into perspective the context in which someone receives the gospel. The context in which they view life. It takes it deeper then culture. I can learn to appreciate and partake in the culture of Brazil, but I will never think within the context of someone who remembers daily 50% inflation, someone who remembers a time when not everyone owned a TV, when most people didn’t have cars and much more. Context makes us realize a persons culture isn’t just the make up of what a person likes and dislikes. Whether they are punctual or tardy. How they dress. Context are all the factors in their life, cultural and experiential that makes up the frame in which they receive, process, and reiterate information. This is key to understanding how to present the gospel within cultures, and more importantly sub cultures. The united states and Brazil are similar in that they are extremely multi cultural. Let’s look at 3 we interact with regularly. More closely at one.

First, your “average” Brazilian. Someone who has grown up in a nation that 25 years ago was a military state. Someone who seen a change in currency, type of government and the emersion of a large middle class. How does context apply to this. The context in which someone lets say over 50 hears the gospel. They grew up likely catholic, religious and formal. They didn’t have much stuff. They seen as an adult a change of government, currency and economy.

What about a 25 year old. They were a kid when things began to change. They heard first hand all about the past. They experienced the growth with much less of the hardship. They likely have a better job then their parents, college education and had more stuff. However they likely didn’t have school books as a kid and had to copy everything off the board. Remember the times when the middle class didn’t have all the extras.

How about a kid. They have no memory of the past. They may not even here stories because their family has likely moved on and is caught up in the pursuits of middle class materialism. All of us from the states understand. They go to school, go to sports, watch TV, play video games. Things their parents and Grandparents didn’t experience.

All three of those groups are from one culture, have similar thoughts on music, entertainment, dress, love but have very different views of the world. Think in very different ways.

Now lets look at the tribal people who come to our house looking for food. I don’t even begin to understand their culture so I will just point out a bit about context. They live outside the system. They aren’t particularly claimed by the 3 countries that come together here. They grew up on the streets. They don’t speak the language. They are isolated in the midst of a million people. They are raised up within a culture that doesn’t function in the world around them. They are a dying people. No country, manipulated for the gain of the government agencies that are supposed to protect them. Exist off what they can find. It is like they are stuck in another dimension.

Finally the favelas. They are Brazilian. They have largely influenced the culture of Brazil. In music, dance, soccer and much more. They share the language, but live at a completely different level. They see death and drugs from the time they are babies. Their entire community is part of the drug trafficking trade. They will either die or go to prison one day. They are not taught to value education or hard work. I see them at the prison. Friday they told us about the people they have killed. They are 15 and 16 years old. Many of them younger. Their own parents don’t value them and churches in their communities largely play on peoples desire for a miracle. Take their money for empty promises. They are not accepted by the nation which they have been a part of. Brazil is passing them by and they watch the gap widen daily.

Culture is only a part of the influence. And we can continue to break these down like we did the first group. Then we can break them down again because everyone has an individual context. This relates to us as Christians, especially us as missionaries because we are called to cross cultural and contextual barriers to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The gospel doesn’t change. It is Jesus and only Jesus. It is the cross. It is the only hope for all people. The problem is we have drifted towards an attraction mentality. We want to draw people into our churches, have them hear and “receive” the gospel. Change to be more like us. I whole heartedly desire to see the gospel bring a value in life back to the boys at the prison. Whole heartedly believe it can and will. My job is to understand the context in which they perceive and think. In order to present Jesus in a way that makes sense to them.

When sharing the gospel with the first group, their context is to believe in God and even “believe” if you will in Jesus. The context in which I share the gospel in the united states is totally different. People reject Jesus from the beginning, may believe in a higher power but reject the idea of a judging God. They are no more or less lost the the Brazilian who doesn’t argue with Jesus and “believes”. The question is are they a disciple? The context I switch into is not to persuade them to believe but to persuade them they need to change. By the time you convince most Americans to “accept” Jesus it is a small thing to tell them to change. It is the opposite here. They likely have already been to church, prayed a prayer, got burned by a pastor and quit going.

The boys from the jail are a bit different. They likely also believe in God. May have been in the church. However we continually find they don’t understand the need for a savior. They don’t have the concept of love and relationship. They have experienced the context of gratification and meeting needs through the using of people their whole lives. The issue is not to convince them there is a God and He is Jesus. It isn’t to convince them they need to change, though they desperately do. The context in which they need to be attacked with the Gospel is in valuing life. They don’t value life here or later. Our plea of accept Jesus and don’t go to hell has no value to them. It is out of context. They need to see there is value in life because God created it and placed value there.

The tribal people. I honestly don’t know. They don’t value possessions, houses, family in the way we do. They simply exist as near as I can tell. Context relates to them in the sense that if I want to present God to them within context I have a lot of learning to do. We desire to reach them but have no idea what will have an impact on their hearts.

The pastor who wrote Radical challenges us to spend 2 weeks a year out of our context. I love it. There are other contexts from us across the city, across the street. All over. I want to put the gospel in a context people will receive. Not try and get them to come to a church that is outside of their context. Create groups of disciples within one context who grow together to reach out to others. We, global we, can’t expect to change the world and to see all groups of people come to know Christ if we don’t actively reach outside of our context and learn about someone else's. We can’t expect what meets our need and grows us to grow all others.